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What Is NTP? What Are Its Benefits? Find Out Now…

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

NTP time server specialists, Galleon, answers what is NTP? Highlighting the benefits of NTP servers for businesses.    

What Is NTP?

What Is NTP?

Galleon Systems, Provider Of NTP Time Servers

In simple terms NTP, or Network Time Protocol, is a system used to synchronise the time of day across computer networks. Originally developed by David L. Mills of the University of Delaware, NTP works by using a single time source, enabling it to synchronise time across all devices that are part of a network.

Did you know? NTP was first implemented in 1985. However, some of its predecessors date back as far as 1979.

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Choosing a Time Server for your Network

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Any network administrator will tell you how important time synchronization is for a modern computer network. Computers rely on the time for nearly everything, especially in today’s age of online trading and global communication where accuracy is essential.

Failing to ensure that computers are accurately synced together could lead to all manner of problems: data loss, security vulnerabilities, unable to conduct time sensitive transactions and difficulties debugging can all be caused by a lack of, or not adequate enough, time synchronization.

But ensuring every computer on a network has the exact same time is simple thanks to two technologies: the atomic clock and the NTP server (Network Time Protocol).

Atomic clocks are extremely accurate chronometers. They can keep time and not drift by as much of a second in thousands of years and it is this accuracy that has made possible technologies and applications such as satellite navigation, online trading and GPS.

Time synchronization for computer networks is controlled by the network time server, commonly referred to as the NTP server after the time synchronization protocol they use, Network Time Protocol.
When it comes to choosing a time server, there are really only two real type – the radio reference NTP time server and the GPS NTP time server.

Radio reference time servers receive the time from long wave transmission broadcast by physics laboratories like NIST in North America or NPL in the UK. These transmissions can often be picked up throughout the country of origin (and beyond) although local topography and interference from other electrical devices can interfere with the signal.

GPS time servers, on the other hand, use the satellite navigation signal transmitted from GPS satellites. The GPS transmissions are generated by atomic clocks onboard the satellites so they are a highly accurate source of time just like the atomic clock generated time broadcast by the physics laboratories.

Apart from the disadvantage of having to have a roof top antenna (GPS works by line of sight so a clear view of the sky is essential), GPS is obtainable literally everywhere on the planet.

As both types of time server can provide an accurate source of reliable time the decision of which type of time server should be based on the availability of long wave signals or whether it is possible to install a rooftop GPS antenna.

MSF Outages for 2010

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Users of the National Physical Laboratory’s (NPL) MSF time and frequency signal are probably aware that the signal is occasionally taken off-air for scheduled maintenance.

NPL have published there scheduled maintenance for 2010 where the signal will be temporarily taken off-air. Usually the scheduled downtimes lasts for less than four hours but users need to be aware that while NPL and VT Communications, who service the antenna, make every effort to ensure the transmitter is off for a brief amount of time as possible, there can be delays.

And while NPL like to ensure all users of the MSF signal have advanced warning of possible outages, emergency repairs and other issues may lead to unscheduled outages. Any user receiving problems receiving the MSF signal should check the NPL website in case of unscheduled maintenance before contacting your time server vendor.

The dates and times of the scheduled maintenance periods for 2010 are as follows:

* 11 March 2010 from 10:00 UTC to 14:00 UTC

* 10 June 2010 from 10:00 BST to 14:00 BST (UTC + 1 hr)

* 9 September 2010 from 10:00 BST to 14:00 BST (UTC + 1 hr)

* 9 December 2010 from 10:00 UTC to 14:00 UTC

As these scheduled outages should take no longer than four hours, users of MSF referenced time servers should not notice any drop off in accuracy of their network as their shouldn’t be enough time for any device to drift.

However, for those users concerned about accuracy or require a NTP time server (Network Time Server) that doesn’t succumb to regular outages, they may wish to consider investing in a GPS time server.

GPS time servers receive the time from the orbiting navigational satellites. As these are available anywhere on the globe and the signals are never down for outages they can provide a constant accurate time signal (GPS time is not the same as UTC but is easily converted by NTP as it is exactly 17 seconds behind due to leap seconds being added to UTC and not GPS).

Radio Controlled Clocks Atomic Clocks on Shortwave

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Atomic clocks are a marvel compared to other forms of timekeepers. It would take over 100,000 years for an atomic clock to lose a second in time which is staggering especially when you compare it to digital and mechanical clocks that can drift that much in a day.

But atomic clocks are not practical pieces of equipment to have around the office or home. They are bulky, expensive and require laboratory conditions to operate effectively. But making use of an atomic clock is straightforward enough especially as atomic time keepers like NIST (National Institute of Standards and Time) and NPL (National Physical Laboratory) broadcast the time as told by their atomic clocks on short wave radio.

NIST transmits its signal, known as WWVB from Boulder, Colorado and it is broadcast on an extremely low frequency (60,000 Hz). The radio waves from WWVB station can cover all of the continental United States plus much of Canada and Central America.

The NPL signal is broadcast in Cumbria in the UK and it is transmitted along similar frequencies. This signal, known as MSF is available throughout most of the UK and similar systems are available in other countries such as Germany, Japan and Switzerland.

Radio controlled atomic clocks receive these long wave signals and correct themselves according to any drift the clock detects. Computer networks also take advantage of these atomic clocks signals and use the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) and dedicated NTP time servers to synchronise hundreds and thousands of different computers.

Which time signal? GPS or WWVB and MSF

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Dedicated NTP time server devices are the easiest, most accurate, reliable and secure method of receiving a source of UTC time (Coordinated Universal Time) for synchronizing a computer network.

NTP servers (Network Time Protocol) operate outside the firewall and are not reliant on the Internet which means they are highly secure and not vulnerable to malicious users who, in the case of Internet time sources can use the NTP client signals as a method of accessing the network or penetrating the firewall.

A dedicated NTP server will also receive it’s time code direct from an atomic clock, this makes it a stratum 1 time server as opposed to online time servers which are stratum 2 time servers, that is they get the time from a stratum 1 server and so are not as accurate.

In using a NTP time server there is only really one decision to make and that is how the time signal is to be received and for this there is only two choices:

The first is to make use of the time standard radio transmissions broadcast by national physics laboratories such as NIST in the USA or the UK’s NPL. These signals (WWVB in the US, MSF in the UK) are limited in range although the USA signal is available in most parts of Canada and Alaska. However, they are vulnerable to local interference and topography as other long wave radio signals are.

The alternative to the WWVB/MSF signal is to utilise the GPS satellite network (Global Positioning System). Atomic clocks are used by GPS satellites as the basis for navigational information used by satellite receivers. These atomic clocks can be used by using a NTP time server fitted with a GPS antenna.

Whilst the GPS time signal is strictly speaking not UTC- it is 17 seconds behind as leap seconds have never been added to GPS time (as the satellites are unreachable) but NTP can account for this (by simply adding 17 whole seconds). The advantage of GPS is that it is available anywhere on the planet just as long as the GPS antenna has a clear view of the sky.

Duel systems that can utilise both types of signal are also available.

MSF Outage 11 June NPL Maintenance

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

The UK’s MSF signal broadcast from Anthorn, Cumbria and utilised by UK NTP server users is be turned off for a four hour period on 11 June for scheduled maintenance. The MSF 60 kHz time and frequency standard will be off between 10.00 and 14:00 BST (9:00 – 13:00 UTC).

Users of NTP time servers that utilise the MSF signal should be aware of the outage but shouldn’t panic. Most network time servers that use the Anthorn system should still function adequately and the lack of a timing signal for four hours should not create any synchronisation problems or clock drift.

However, any testing of time servers that utilise MSF should be conducted before or after the scheduled outage. Further information is available from NPL.

Any network time server users that require ultra-precise precision or are feel temporary loss of this signal could cause repercussions in their time synchronisation should seriously consider utilising the GPS signal as an additional means of receiving a time signal.

GPS is available literally anywhere on the planet (as long as there is a good clear view of the sky) and is never down due to outages.

For further information on GPS NTP server can be found here.

WWVB Explained

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The NTP time server (Network Time Protocol) is an essential tool for keeping networks synchronised. Without adequate synchronization, computer networks can be left vulnerable to security threats, data loss, fraud and may find it impossible to interact with other networks across the globe.

Computer networks are normally synchronised to the global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) enabling them to communicate efficiently with other networks also running UTC.

Whilst UTC time sources are available across the Internet these are not secure (being outside the firewall) and many are either too far away to provide adequate precision or are too inaccurate to begin with.

The most secure methods of receiving a UTC time source are to use a dedicated NTP Time Server. These devices can receive a secure and accurate time signal either the GPS network (Global Positioning System) available anywhere across the globe with a good view of the sky or through specialist radio transmission broadcast by national physics laboratories.

In the US the National Institute for Standards and Time (NIST) broadcast a time signal from near Fort Collins, Colorado. The signal, known as WWVB can be received all over North America (including many parts of Canada) and provides an accurate and secure method of receiving UTC.

As the signal is derived from atomic clocks situated at the Fort Collins site, WWVB is a highly accurate method of synchronising time and is also secure as a dedicated NTP time server acts as an external source.

Types of Atomic Clock Receivers

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

MSF atomic clock receiver

The controlling radio signal for the National Physical Laboratory‘s atomic clock is transmitted on the MSF 60kHz signal via the transmitter at , CumbriaAnthorn, operated by British Telecom. This radio atomic clock time signal should have a range of some 1,500 km or 937.5 miles. All of the British Isles are of course within this radius.
The National Physical Laboratory’s role as keeper of the national time standards is to ensure that the UK time-scale agrees with Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC) to the highest levels of accuracy and to make that time available across the UK. As an example, the MSF (MSF being the three-letter call sign to identify the source of the signal) radio broadcast provides the time signal for, electronic share trading, the clocks at most railway stations and for BT’s speaking clock.

DCF atomic clock receiver

The controlling radio signal for the German clock is transmitted via long wave from the DCF 77kHz transmitter at Mainflinger, near Dieburg, some 25 km south east of Frankfurt – the transmitter of German National Time Standards. It is similar in operation to the Cumbria transmitter, however there are two antennas (radio masts) so the radio atomic clock time signal can be maintained at all times.

Long wave is the preferred radio frequency for transmitting radio atomic clock time code binary signals as it performs most consistently in the stable lower part of the ionosphere. This is because the long wave signal carrying the time code to your timepiece travels in two ways; directly and indirectly. Between 700 km (437.5 miles) to 900 km (562.5 miles) of each transmitter the carrier wave can travel directly to the timepiece. The radio signal also reaches the timepiece via being bounced off the underside of the ionosphere. During the hours of daylight a part of the ionosphere called the “D layer” at an altitude of some 70 km (43.75 miles) is responsible for reflecting the long wave radio signal. During the hours of darkness when the sun’s radiation is not acting from outside the atmosphere, this layer rises to an altitude of some 90 km (56.25 miles) becoming the “E layer” in the process. Simple trigonometry will show that signals thus reflected will travel further.

A large part of the European Union area is covered by this transmitter facilitating reception for those who travel widely in Europe. The German clock is set on Central European Time – one hour ahead of U.K. time, following an inter-governmental decision, from the 22nd October, 1995, U.K. time will always be 1 hour less than European Time with both the U.K. and mainland Europe advancing and retarding clocks at the same “time”.

WVVB atomic clock receiver

A radio atomic clock system is available in North America set up and operated by NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology, located in Fort Collins, Colorado.

WWVB  has high transmitter power (50,000 watts), a very efficient antenna and an extremely low frequency (60,000 Hz). For comparison, a typical AM radio station broadcasts at a frequency of 1,000,000 Hz. The combination of high power and low frequency gives the radio waves from MSF a lot of bounce, and this single station can therefore cover the entire continental United States plus much of Canada and Central America.

The radio atomic clock time codes are sent from WWVB using one of the simplest systems possible, and at a very low data rate of one bit per second. The 60,000 Hz signal is always transmitted, but every second it is significantly reduced in power for a period of 0.2, 0.5 or 0.8 seconds:

• 0.2 seconds of reduced power means a binary zero • 0.5 seconds of reduced power is a binary one. • 0.8 seconds of reduced power is a separator.

The time code is sent in BCD (Binary Coded Decimal) and indicates minutes, hours, day of the year and year, along with information about daylight savings time and leap years. The time is transmitted using 53 bits and 7 separators, and therefore takes 60 seconds to transmit.

A clock or watch can contain an extremely small and relatively simple radio atomic clock antenna and receiver to decode the information in the signal and set the atomic clock time accurately. All that you have to do is set the time zone, and the atomic clock will display the correct time.

Atomic Clock Synchronization using WWVB

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Accurate time using Atomic Clocks is available across North America using the WWVB Atomic Clock time signal transmitted from Fort Collins, Colorado; it provides the ability to synchronize the time on computers and other electrical equipment.

The North American WWVB signal is operated by NIST - the National Institute of Standards and Technology. WWVB has high transmitter power (50,000 watts), a very efficient antenna and an extremely low frequency (60,000 Hz). For comparison, a typical AM radio station broadcasts at a frequency of 1,000,000 Hz. The combination of high power and low frequency gives the radio waves from WWVB a lot of bounce, and this single station can therefore cover the entire continental United States plus much of Canada and Central America.

The time codes are sent from WWVB using one of the simplest systems possible, and at a very low data rate of one bit per second. The 60,000 Hz signal is always transmitted, but every second it is significantly reduced in power for a period of 0.2, 0.5 or 0.8 seconds: • 0.2 seconds of reduced power means a binary zero • 0.5 seconds of reduced power is a binary one. • 0.8 seconds of reduced power is a separator. The time code is sent in BCD (Binary Coded Decimal) and indicates minutes, hours, day of the year and year, along with information about daylight savings time and leap years.

The time is transmitted using 53 bits and 7 separators, and therefore takes 60 seconds to transmit. A clock or watch can contain an extremely small and relatively simple antenna and receiver to decode the information in the signal and set the clock’s time accurately. All that you have to do is set the time zone, and the atomic clock will display the correct time.

Dedicated NTP time servers that are tuned to receive the WWVB time signal are available. These devices connect o a computer network like any other server only these receive the timing signal and distribute it to other machines on the network using NTP (Network Time Protocol).

MSF Technical Information

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

The MSF transmission from Anthorn (latitude 54° 55′ N, longitude 3° 15′ W) is the principal means of disseminating the UK national standards of time and frequency which are maintained by the National Physical Laboratory. The effective monopole radiated power is 15 kW and the antenna is substantially omnidirectional. The signal strength is greater than 10 mV/m at 100 km and greater than 100 μV/m at 1000 km from the transmitter. The signal is widely used in northern and western Europe. The carrier frequency is maintained at 60 kHz to within 2 parts in 1012.

Simple on-off carrier modulation is used, the rise and fall times of the carrier are determined by the combination of antenna and transmitter. The timing of these edges is governed by the seconds and minutes of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is always within a second of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Every UTC second is marked by an ‘off’ preceded by at least 500 ms of carrier, and this second marker is transmitted with an accuracy better than ±1 ms.

The first second of the minute begins with a period of 500 ms with the carrier off, to serve as a minute marker. The other 59 (or, exceptionally, 60 or 58) seconds of the minute always begin with at least 100 ms ‘off’ and end with at least 700 ms of carrier. Seconds 01-16 carry information for the current minute about the difference (DUT1) between astronomical time and atomic time, and the remaining seconds convey the time and date code. The time and date code information is always given in terms of UK clock time and date, which is UTC in winter and UTC+1h when Summer Time is in effect, and it relates to the minute following that in which it is transmitted.

Dedicated MSF NTP Server devices are available that can connect directly to the MSF transmission.

Information Courtesy of NPL